Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Thorp - Page Sawmill

Detail, East Cleveland Township
A detail from the 1858 Hopkins Map of Cuyahoga County. Used courtesy of Rails and Trails, original courtesy of the Bedford Historical Society. Annotations by the author.
In 1837, two farmers, both residents of Cleveland, purchased a small, oddly shaped parcel of land (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 183904200003). The $250 purchase netted them 8.27 acres, with Coit Road on one side, and Nine Mile Creek running down the middle of it. The property, outlined here in green, was about a quarter mile south of St. Clair Avenue.

The Luster Tannery
You may recall Nine Mile Creek as the source of water for the Luster Tannery (16360 Euclid Avenue, East Cleveland), about a mile upstream. The structure, built for tanning leather in the 1850s, is a major early industrial landmark. The Luster property is outlined in light blue

The two men who purchased the land, Cornelius Thorp and Isaac Page, both lived in the area. Cornelius, at the time, was 30 years old, and was married, with three or four children. Isaac was a few years older, also married and the father of at least a couple children.

Both had farms of a decent size - Isaac Page's amounted to 62 acres, while Cornelius Thorp's farm was about 40 acres.

Why, then, did they purchase the land?

Detail, 1903 USGS Topographic Map
This detail of a 1903 USGS topographical map, covering about the same area as the one used to open this story, helps illustrate why. Note that Nine Mile Creek seems to enter a ravine at about the point where the sawmill is located (to the left of the "k" in "Creek"). Perhaps there was even a falls. Whatever the case, there would probably have been significant water power at the site.

Water power was very important in the early to mid 19th cenutry - other than steam engines and manual labor, it was the only way one could power anything. Even on a tiny creek, a small dam could store up enough water to power a mill for a couple hours a day.

To take advantage of the water power, a sawmill was built on the site, as illustrated in the 1858 map that I lead with. When was it built? I haven't been able to locate any information relating to that. One might suspect that construction began soon after the purchase, unless they bought the land speculatively.

Thorp and Page probably operated the mill part-time - the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Censuses list their occupations as "farmer". It was quite common at the time to do other work to supplement farm income, so this does not seem strange. However, as of 1860, Isaac's son, Isaac Morris (or Maurice) Page lists his occupation as "sawmill" - perhaps running the business full time. A decade later, however, he is listed again as a farmer.

There is only one other sawmill pictured in East Cleveland township on the 1858 Hopkins map - a steam driven one on Shaw Brook, operated by Henry Coit, shown in the far left of the detail above. This suggests relatively little competition in the immediate area.

The grave of Isaac Page (the father) is marked by this obelisk, in East Cleveland Township Cemetery.

A small obelisk, mostly buried, marks the Thorp family plot at First Presbyterian Churchyard, in East Cleveland.

Thorp, Mary
The only name visible is that of Cornelius's daughter, Mary. It'll be worth digging up the fallen obelisk and replacing it on its mount, to see if the names of other family members are noted.

These weren't the only mills in the immediate area - there were more in Euclid, as detailed in Mills & Salt, on Bluestone Heights. Still, this example represents an interesting piece of our early industrial history.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Would you believe that this grand East Cleveland home is still standing!?

Fred Welton house painted by daughter Mary
Fred Welton house painted by daughter Mary. From Ellen Loughry Price, History of East Cleveland, page 21.

I didn't.

Recently, I've been doing a fair amount of research into East Cleveland in the 19th century. Part of it is because of a book that I'm doing on the Parks family (builders of this house). More, however, it's because I'm realizing how much interesting history there is in East Cleveland - and how little work has been done to uncover it. Tons of great stories seem to be revealed in the structures still standing, most of them just off Euclid Avenue.

Built circa 1850? IMGP8564
Take this pair of houses at 1710 and 1704 Collamer - both moved to this site in the early 20th century. The one on the left (1710 Collamer) has a grand doorway, and appears to have been built in the 1850s. The one on the right (1704 Collamer) is a shorter, post and beam structure, with vertical plank sheathing - something that one usually only sees in much earlier buildings. Both are the subject of continuing research.

Why are they so exciting? Because they're good-sized structures, likely built on a major road (Euclid Avenue), with considerable historic detail. And nothing has been written about them! (As interesting as the old standards may be, it's always more compelling, for me, to be uncovering something new.) These are but a sample of what awaits.

When I first saw Fred Welton house painted by daughter Mary, I was sure that the house was gone - even though Ellen Loughry Price didn't provide any details as to where it might have been located.

Birge / Welton house
When I first saw it, on January 25, from an angle similar to this one, it didn't even catch my attention enough to warrant stopping the car. There was something about it that seemed not quite right, but I couldn't put my finger on what that something was - I assumed it was just the odd habits of the builder or architect - or those who had added onto it over time.

Birge / Welton house
The roofline, seen here from Euclid Avenue, suggests that the house was built in the 1890s or 1900s - or perhaps the 1910s. But, again, there's something that isn't quite right.

Front Door, Birge / Welton house

Then I saw this doorway, at what is now the back of the house, facing a gas station and Euclid Avenue. It screams "1850s" (or perhaps a little earlier). The door itself appears original. The spaces between the pairs of columns have small windows (sidelights), which have been painted over. This is also the case for the set of windows over the doorway, the transom. It's quite unusual to see them present, and in this good of condition - I can't think of another extant example of this quality in Cleveland or an inner-ring suburb.

Doorway, Mesopotamia, Ohio.  1924.
Doorway, Mesopotamia, Ohio. 1924. Photograph by I.T. Frary. Print 2142 in the I.T. Frary Audiovisual collection of the Ohio Historical Society.
The doorway is of a style common in the better houses of the period - it's quite similar to this one, in Mesopotamia, Ohio - though I think the one on our subject house is slightly better proportioned to the structure as a whole.

I took a few more photographs, with the intent of seeing what more I could learn. It was only once I was back at the computer, and I found the name of the property owner on a historic map, that I made the connection with the painting above.

The house was built on the north corner of Euclid Avenue and Shaw Avenue, in East Cleveland, Ohio. The current address is 15314 Welton Drive, East Cleveland, Ohio.

When was this house built, and by whom?

Lasell Birge, a farmer, purchased the land that the house would be built on at auction, for $5,0000, in 1851 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 185105220001). It was being sold by the estate of John Shaw, for whom Shaw High School is named.

I haven't been able to learn much of anything about Birge. He was born in Connecticut in about 1811 and married Rebecca Birge, a Vermonter (born about 1820), before moving to Ohio, in or before 1839, the year of the birth of their first child, Cornelius. He may have been living in Palmyra, Ohio, in 1840. Their other children included Eliza (born about 1847); Catherine (born about 1850); and Elizabeth (born about 1855) (1840-1870 U.S. Census).

By 1850, the family was living in East Cleveland. They show up there in the 1860 US Census as well, where they're listed as having real estate worth $10,000.

He seems to have been relatively well off, as, just two years later, he was able to purchase another significant parcel, on Euclid Avenue, near what is now East 105th Street, with one John Welch, for $3,500 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 185304050004).

It seems most likely that Lasell Birge built the house by 1860. It's almost certain that it was present by 1864, when he sold the property to Frederick J. Welton (or Wilton). The property, then down to just 5 acres, was sold for a sum of $4200 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 186412190004). If we're to accept another property transfer from Birge to Welton, earlier in the year, of a nearby parcel, as representative of the value of the land in that vicinity, the house was worth about $3,750. (The parcel, ten acres, sold for $875 - $87.50 / acre (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 186408290007)).

Frederick Wilton, a farmer, was born about 1799 in Connecticut. He would have been about 65 when he purchased the house with his wife, Minerva, born about 1818, in Vermont. As of 1870, they had four children living with them in this house: Mary (born about 1845); Frank (born about 1850); James (born about 1850); and Sarah, born about 1856 (1870 U.S. Census).

Little else has been written about Welton. A death notice (Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 29, 1872, page 3) describes him as a "well known citizen" and continues, noting that he "died at his residence at Collamer this morning after a short illness. Mr. Welton has resided at Collamer about 15 years, coming from Burton, Geauga County. He has always been a liberal man, a kind friend and a good neighbor. Mr. Welton was born in Connecticut and emigrated to Geauga County in the year 1832."

Frederick J. Welton property
Detail of a plate from the 1898 Flynn Atlas of the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. Used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.
In 1898, the grounds included our subject house, shown here in red, and two other residences, immediately under the word "Welton", facing Shaw Avenue. A driveway provided access to the property, both from Shaw Avenue and From Euclid Avenue, on the right. In addition to a carriage house, there was some sort of other small outbuilding.

Welton property in 1913
Detail, 1913 Sanborn fire insurance atlas for Cleveland, Ohio. Volume 8, plate 53. Used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.
Fifteen years later, the same property shows considerable change. (Our subject house is immediately to the right of the word "Wilton" in "Wilton Drive".) Three houses have been built in front of the Birge / Welton house. Richmond Place cuts along the border of the Richmond property, and Wilton Drive runs right behind the house. Several other structures have been built on (or moved to) the five acre parcel.

It was by this time that the house acquired the Wilton Drive address.

But what of the house as it is today?

There are two obvious differences between the historic painting of the house and the structure as it stands today. The roof was replaced, likely due to differences in taste, between about 1890 and 1915. This was not uncommon.

Birge / Welton house
The other obvious difference is the porch, now missing. The stone foundation of the porch remains. It's not common to see the entire floor of the porch be stone - more often, you'd just have stone supports for the columns, with the remainder of the floor constructed from wood. This choice of materials is likely the only reason for the floor of the porch to have survived.

If we look at the outline in the paint where the porch roof attached to the house, the outline of a curved bracket is visible, suggesting something of the style of the columns supporting it.

Birge / Welton house
There is much more to be learned in the history of this grand 1850s house - a subject that I hope to deal with in greater depth in future posts. Perhaps you know the owner - or perhaps you know where the painting that I led with is located.

I'm still just surprised that a structure with such interesting history was sitting here, right in front of my nose!

Friday, February 3, 2012

URGENT! Langston Hughes House is Being "Demolished"

UPDATE (4:00 pm, February 3, 2012) The situation is not completely as I understood it to be - and I apologize for the confusion. The porch is going to be rebuilt - it was removed due to the failure of the foundation. The woodwork is still all being removed, to be replaced with identical - it's an issue of lead abatement - and it is still in the dumpster. There will be an in-depth follow-up on Monday.

Langston Hughes, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, had his first works published while a student at Cleveland's Central High School. At this time (his sophomore and junior years) he lived alone, in the attic of 2266 East 86th Street, in Cleveland's Fairfax neighborhood.

When I learned that the house had been forclosed upon and was sitting vacant, back in 2009, I worked to bring public attention to the structure. These efforts resulted in coverage on National Public Radio's All Things Considered and in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The structure was made a designated Cleveland Landmark. All these efforts led to Fairfax Renaissance assuming ownership and management of the rehabilitation, with the intent of offering it to a low to moderate income family at a reasonable mortgage - an idea solution.

Progress was being made. The plans for the renovation were approved by the Cleveland Landmarks Commission and it looked as though things were proceeding well.

Then, yesterday, I drove by the house, and was shocked at what I saw.

Langston Hughes house - under renovation
A look through the window openings this morning confirmed my worst fears: the house had been gutted to the studs, with all traces of the original building material, save for the staircase, gone. Where has it gone? Likely to the two large dumpsters, full to the brim, in the vacant lot next door.

Detail of a photograph, used courtesy of the Cuyahoga County Archives.
The most obvious loss is the front porch, which was original to the house.

Langston Hughes residence
Most of the components of the porch remained, in good condition, when I last photographed the house. It was to be repaired, not removed - and I'm sure that the Landmarks Commission will do whatever is necessary to ensure that it is rebuilt. The staff of the commission will be meeting with Fairfax Renaissance next week to discuss replacement window options, and the porch will be addressed at that time. Of course, it will be much harder to do this if the lumber that made up the porch is in the aforementioned dumpsters, which I fear will be emptied soon.

Langston Hughes house - living room
Unfortunately, the jurisdiction of the Landmarks Commission is limited to the exterior. Original doors, crown moulding, and trim, shown here, have all been removed.

Langston Hughes house - stairs
Note how nicely the crown moulding and trim around the doorway complements the stairs - the only remaining bit of original woodwork - and imagine what pictures might have hung from the integral picture rail.

Langston Hughes house - den and living room
The trim and the doors here, too, are gone.

Hot air vent, Langston Hughes house Gas light fixture, Langston Hughes house
And then there are the little things, the furnace hot air vent and the remains of an old, disused gas light fixture - these are the details make a house unique.

What can you do?

My primary concern - is that the fabric that makes this house special will be lost, and most likely soon - as the dumpsters look due to be emptied.

How much use do the barely accessible spaces in your attic get? Very little, most likely. They seem, to me, the perfect place to store historic building materials until their importance can be realized.

Got some free time this weekend? Consider visiting the site. Ask the construction workers present for permission to remove some of this significant historic material from the dumpsters. With their permission, take it home. Make note that it came from this house, so that you or someone else will be able to return it here when more sensible minds prevail.